Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Customer service so bad you want to cry

For me, etiquette and customer service are entwined. The definition of etiquette - an awareness of the feelings of others and the impact of your actions upon them - applies perfectly to the concept of customer service.

If you read my blog regularly you'll know that I don't usually name names when posting about poor customer service but occasionally, I have an experience that is so bad I fee l I have to "out" the perpetrators.

Yesterday I went to the Sears store at the Toronto Eaton Centre to buy winter boots. Like many women, I start to think about my fall/winter wardrobe in late September and thought I would see what's available before all the sizes are gone. There were more than 20 customers milling around the shoe department and only two employees, a man who was run off his feet and a woman who was engaged in a lively conversation with three other women that obviously had nothing to do with shoes. To be fair, one of the three was trying on a pair of slippers but I waited for about 10 minutes while they chatted with nary a glance down towards her feet.

Finally getting the salesperson's attention, I handed her my boot of choice and she trundled to the back to find my size. She came back out a few minutes later because she had forgotten what size I said. When she came back, she had the right boot in the wrong size. When I asked if I could try it on in MY size, she rolled her eyes and brought out another pair. This time it was the right boot in the right size but the wrong colour. My patience growing thin, I asked her if she could please bring me a pair of boots in my size and colour of choice. After an exasperated sigh, she left, came back a few minutes later, threw a box on the floor and walked away. When I took off the lid, the boots inside were completely different than the sample I had shown her.

I went to find her and, suprise, found her again chatting with the three women as frustrated customers bided their time nearby. I asked her why she kept bringing me the wrong boots to try on and, sneering, she said, "I guess we just don't have what you want". Furious by now, I went to a nearby cash counter and asked to have the store manager paged. About five minutes later, he arrived. This is where it gets good. As I started to explain the situation to him, his cell phone rang and, HE ANSWERED IT! He then proceeded to have a 3-or-4 minute call while I stood there cooling my heels. When he finally got off the phone, I asked him why he took the call when he had a disgruntled customer standing in front of him. He looked at me incredulously and matter-of-factly said he couldn't NOT answer his phone. Can I take a moment here to remind everyone that the world will not end if you let a phone ring to voicemail once in a while?

While my experience in the shoe department frustrated me, I was really dismayed by the manager's actions. An organization's leaders set the tone for its approach to customer service and, by leaving me to stew while he had a conversation, it was clear that placating customers is not a priority.

Needless to say, I left and have no plans to return even though I had money to spend and found something I wanted to buy on that day at that time. I'm sharing my experience here. But, like my friend Eden Spodek says in a similar post on poor customer service , we can blog and rant online all we want. They won't have a clue and they might lose another customer or two. So what.

If customer service was a priority, it wouldn't have happened in the first place.


  1. Wow what an incredibly familiar experience Louise. Especially with the "rolling of the eyes" that some customer service reps so readily share. I think Sears needs to take a serious look at both the rep here and the Manager's actions especially with a client who was clearly in the store to buy.

    I never go to Sears for anything since the attitude seems (and it's definitely not restricted to the big retail chains) to be that they are doing YOU a favour. As you say - the rants could last all day - the true measure is keeping your money in your wallet and giving someone else the ability to be rewarded for stellar behaviour and service.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. You're so right. Stay tuned for a follow-up blog post about the excellent customer service I received in the next store I went to...where I did buy something!

  3. Louise, There's no excuse for poor customer service anytime and the way we can vote is with our feet and our wallets (and perhaps our blog posts.)

    What miffs me is how businesses can operate this way in such tough economic times where they are cutting their profit margins to fight for our business. Perhaps if they spent as much time knowing how to build relationships with customers, they would increase their sales.

    I can't wait to learn what you ended up buying and where. My guess is the lucky store enticed you to spend more money on the winning pair of boots.